Lily Isobella has a background spanning over 20 years in the domestic violence and sexual assault sectors. Through her practice and also her speaking career, she has helped guide thousands of women to work through, recover and find strength after trauma. Lily has taken that experience and started Get Up Girl — a self-defence, self-esteem and self-respect program to arm girls and women with reality-based self-defence skills, as well as teaching them about body sovereignty, consent, boundaries, self-worth and safety.
Hey Lily. You have been given some unique training over the past 12 months. What have you been up to?
I have just spent the past year travelling to Melbourne constantly, to get my butt kicked! The goal was to attain my certification as a female reality-based self-defence instructor, which I am proud to say, I received – along with cracked ribs, busted wrists and a collection of bruises of which I will be forever proud.
This type of self-defence training isn’t just given out to anyone, and you are among only four women in Australia to complete the training and continue on to teach. How did that all come about?
Reality-based self-defence is not a sport or martial arts, but a street style close-quarter combat survival system. To train to be an instructor was one of the most physically and psychologically gruelling things I have ever done. My instructor warned me at the start of the very high fail rate, which I think was meant to scare me. Instead, it motivated me to do myself proud and show other women what we are capable of when we choose to step up.
I feel very honoured to have trained with the team that I did – they are all amazing, deeply dedicated professionals, most of whom work in front-line roles protecting women and children from extreme violence. They have translated those skills into a system of self-defence that is both practical and realistic for women to use in life.
You are now passing these skills on to other women. What was involved in becoming able to train others?
A lot of pain, a lot of training and a lot of study. Part of the skill set we teach women is to understand the psychology of violence and the physiology of responding to violence. For me, re-training my response system was the hardest part. As women, we are not traditionally taught to stand up for ourselves, be loud, defend our space – be safe in the world. We are taught to minimise and placate – which can not only be dangerous at times, but it can also mean that we, as women, do not reach our full potential in the world, out of fear.
Why do you feel it is so important for women to have this type of training?
I want every woman to live a life without fear. As women, we are taught by society to fear so many things – violence at the hands of another is only one of those things. Fear of not fitting in, fear of drawing attention, fear of speaking out, fear of being not enough and fear of being too much. Fear keeps us quiet; it keeps us small. Fear stops us from “having a go” and fear keeps us “in our place”.
The way I am teaching women about self-defence is not just about the moves you can do to prevent and survive an attack but is also about all the ways we can overcome fear in order to step up, play big, be seen and be heard.
What sort of age groups do you train?
I run a course called Get Up Girl, which trains girls from age five to age 14. I also run regular groups for women aged 16 and over. There are separate groups for women who have already survived some form of violence as well. As a survivor of violence myself, I know how important it is for these women to have a very closely held and safe space in which to explore their capacity to move through that pre-existing trauma.
How does the program vary for the different groups?
The core message of self-esteem, self-respect and self-defence is the same for all women, no matter their age. We simply modify the physical skills for young girls and ensure that the respectful relationship component is geared more towards self relating and friendships. Girls of all ages can, and should, learn about body sovereignty, consent, boundaries, self-worth and safety. There is no age limit on knowing that you are worth looking after and how to go about it.
Can women expect to go through the same thing you did at your training?
NO! I teach women of all capacities and all levels of fitness. The training is about being the absolute best version of you, and using the skill set you already have … and having a good time. Training regularly, though, will guarantee you get some pretty solid fitness results as well.
What do you enjoy most about what you do?
I absolutely love watching women and girls transform themselves. The women and girls who train with me do all of the work – they know that, and they get to be proud of that. That pride is reflected in the way they speak, the way they walk, the way they carry themselves. It shows in the changes they make – they start looking after themselves, putting themselves first, leaving bad jobs, bad relationships, bad situations. Watching a woman discover her worth, and giving her tools to defend that worth, explore it deeply, and be wildly proud of it – that is something that I will never tire of.
I also have a very special place in my heart for the women who come with a history of trauma and violence. It takes incredible strength to rebuild your life after such things, and to be a small part of that process is an unparalleled honour.
How often do you hold classes? Where and when?
I hold classes all the time! There are regular weekly classes and day classes locally, as well as day classes in Queensland and Victoria. The program can be delivered in a one day format for organisations and groups not located on the Coffs Coast, and it has also been adapted for high schools and youth organisations, with epic results! My big life goal is to have this learning embedded in every high school smart enough to take it up.
We are also currently structuring a similar program for boys and hope to have it finalised for release early next year – watch this space! But for now, if you are a woman, no matter your age, and you want to experience something life-changing, we want to work with you.